Talking Movies

July 28, 2019

Notes on The Current War

The late 19th Century duelling engineers drama The Current War was the film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Benedict Cumberbatch adds another name to his roll call of Sherlock Holmes, Alan Turing, and Dominic Cummings, playing another character with poor social graces and a conceited regard for their own high ability. Except that in this instance of course Thomas Edison is wrong. Simply wrong. As Michael Shannon’s George Westinghouse puts it if Edison gets his way and insists on direct current being the standard used then America will become a checkerboard of power plants as Edison constructs one every square mile because he refuses to use the superior system of alternating current. The film doesn’t hold back from how unpleasant Edison was in blackguarding Westinghouse’s AC because he lacked the mind necessary to solve the problem of its high voltage. The man, who once worked for him, possessed of that mind was Nikola Tesla; played here by Nicholas Hoult, and used sparingly, almost as if, like the Nolans with The Prestige, Tesla can only be a minor character in a film because there really is simply too much of the wizard about him.

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October 4, 2013

How I Live Now

Saoirse Ronan impresses as a sullen teenager facing up to WWIII, but worryingly once again her performance is better than the film that contains it.

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Caustic American teenager Daisy (Ronan) arrives in Britain, travelling as an unaccompanied minor. Well, unaccompanied except for the competing voices of self-help mantras and hyper-critical judgements in her head. She is collected from the airport by her English cousin Isaac (Tom Holland) illegally driving a Range Rover home to their isolated farm where Daisy meets Piper (Harley Bird), who’s frightfully excited at having a substitute big sister, and neighbour Joe (Danny McEvoy), who prefers their home to his abusive father’s. Daisy swoons over a dishy falconer (George MacKay), glimpsed as they drive past him, only to discover that he’s her cousin George. Aunt Penn (Anna Chancellor) is distracted by government worries over possible terrorist attacks and so Daisy has to adjust to her cousins’ irritatingly bohemian lifestyle. But by the time apocalypse comes proceedings are all very early Ian McEwen…

How I Live Now is a very well made film. Last King of Scotland director Kevin McDonald gets very natural performances from the child actors even as his oblique portrayal of nuclear apocalypse gets increasingly brutal. Some of his visuals are simply stunning. The detonation of a bomb in London sees the shockwave preceded by a tsunami-like moment of eerie calm and atmospheric reverse and then a magical fall of snow as the sky darkens. And driving thru the deserted motorways of England recalls 28 Days Later, as do the brutal eruptions of violence in rural camps and an extended suspense sequence when Daisy and Piper investigate a deserted army base for signs of what happened. However the lack of detail grates when you’re expected to swallow not just nukes and poisoned reservoirs but, somehow, massive mobilised armies of terrorists.

Ronan edges slightly towards her role in Hanna towards the end, but, especially initially, she’s doing something new. She’s playing a far more abrasive character than any she’s essayed before and doing it very well. Indeed the film’s so good at upsetting audience expectations as to its genre that it’s a while before you notice that it’s gradually forgotten the hyper-critical voice in Daisy’s head that was presented as the key to her character in the opening act, and then sporadically later on; when planning her trek home. The most troubling element though is not the implication of possible inherited schizophrenia that is literally dispensed with when the shooting starts, but that we’re expected (even down to the tagline on posters) to root for Daisy to get home so that she can continue an incestuous relationship with her first cousin

How I Live Now is too solidly well made a film to not be given 3 stars but its central romantic motif makes it hard to truly like it.

3/5

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